We like alt-J. We really do. But for fuck’s sake, is there a band out there who are so painfully try-hard hipster, so desperate to be left of centre, that every move of theirs creaks under the weight of conscious contrarianism? No. The answer is no, people.
Relaxer, very appropriately, starts as a pleasant excursion through the gently-lucked guitar and atmospheric mist of 3WW. “I just want to love you in my own language,” they sing with a bit of help from Wolf Alice‘s Ellie Rowsell, essentially summing up what we’ve enjoyed about the band in their relatively short career so far. They defy expectation, they invariably do what they feel like, and it’s forever thrilling in an indie landscape of Catfish and/or Bottlemen.
On Relaxer, however, their detours lead to more dead-ends than ever before. In Cold Blood seems like a portrait made by people who have never actually been to a pool party before, instead observing through the clinical black-and-white print of newspaper or in this case the jarring repetition of “zero-one-zero-zero-one”. We get it, lads. But your social commentary could be a tad less obvious.
This is, by and large, indulgent indie navel-gazing. Why else would alt-J feel the need to include a melancholic embellished-cover of The Animals’ song House of The Rising Sun? While their incredible string arrangement works in its sweeping cinematic beauty, there’s an interesting question mark over artistic intent. For a band so keen to lambast modern culture on earlier songs, they seem quite happy to exploit the same privileges that come with it.
That means channelling those very same Animals and the likes of Cash and Dylan on Hit Me Like That Snare, and an insouciance that doesn’t seem convincing even to themselves on Deadcrush. Truth be told, Glass Animals are doing this schtick way better than alt-J, and even the lovely Adeline (a testament to what they can do when they’re good) and a short runtime can’t save this from being their worst record to date. If you need any sort of relaxer, you’re better off popping a couple of ambien instead of heading down this K-hole.